Humanity appears to be hard-wired to seek a structure of leadership directed by others. From what I can tell, the Israelites had a fairly functional (if imperfect) system of doing life together and yet they went to Samuel and said, “Now we want a king to be our leader, just like all the other nations. Choose one for us!” 1 Samuel 5. 

How, after several millennia, we still want that, I have no clue. It looks different, but it’s brought us exactly what God said it would.

For our current time, I think it is fair to replace the term ‘king’ with the word ‘government.’ To paraphrase God's warning through Samuel: The government will conscript your sons and use them to increase power over others. The government will take your daughters and bend their minds and bodies to submit to authority and promote the government's influence over generations. And your property will become the governments. The government will take a tenth—no, make that a half—of everything you create. Therefore, you will be half slaves but allowed to live (and die) only as the governing authority sees fit.

I for one would like to head over to Samuel’s place and tell him we are good with decentralized authority and self governance (my utopia) We’ll agree to, oh I don't know, maybe only ten basic laws. If there is no victim—there is no crime. Eventually the general assumption of non-aggression will fail. And when it does, several witnesses are mandatory (held to truth or consequences) and principled, accountable judges must act to seek restitution for those wronged. 

It's not Singapore, and it’s not the western model, but it sure would be closer to the utopia we should always strive for. Heck, I’ll even chip in to build the roads.

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This data-feedback/metrics system is basically what Andrew Yang wanted, but most people ignored him as a candidate.

All of his books are worth reading, especially his first one. I’ve read all of them. Highly recommend.

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The fact that there isn't free speech or freedom of the press in Singapore, to me, casts doubt on the high approval ratings...

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I understand the attraction of what looks like a stable, prosperous city-state. If a utopia is to include freedom of thought and speech, though, Singapore is not a model. I recommend reading the book "Spin Dictators," by Sergei Guriev and Daniel Treisman, to get an understanding of how Lee initially shut down press freedoms, limited protests, and made sure to crack down on unions in order to achieve his goals.

From the preface: "Instead of terrorizing citizens, a skillful ruler can control them by reshaping their beliefs about the world. He can fool people into compliance and even enthusiastic approval. In place of harsh repression, the new dictators manipulate information."

Technocrats can achieve plenty if they pose a high cost to opposition and tightly control media narratives, and a balanced view would have to include many more perspectives aside Lee's own book.

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I think you are too generous in thinking businesses make data driven decisions. Maybe 1% or2%. Most do not have data or do not know what to do with it. Your work experience at Google is the exception.

Another business model is the co-operatively owned business. Here is a story on perhaps the best known and most successful....


The similarity between Mondragon and Singapore that may best be an indicator is population size. Also, lack of defense funding.

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Jan 16, 2023·edited Jan 16, 2023Liked by Elle Griffin

Having worked in both the private sector and the voluntary sector, this is a discussion I've had all sorts of times, in various ways. At times when working for a charity I despaired at the lack of efficiency, and the reliance on project funding which prevented long-term planning. Pre-approved funding meant that end results often didn't seem to really matter, as long as the boxes were ticked.

On the other hand, the people in that sector are the hardest working and most committed people I've ever met. They change lives, for very little reward, despite the infrastructural inefficiencies.

The private sector when it's firing on all cylinders is fast, efficient, targeted. But it can also be bloated, slow, old fashioned and reactionary. When markets change, companies rarely change with them - instead a new company arises to take the lead, while the old companies simply die. Survival of the fittest might sometimes work out OK in the context of private companies (if you ignore redundancies), but that'd be bad news for a government.

I get the theory that you're talking about here, Elle, but I think it's based on a very optimistic view of how the private sector (and capitalism) works. Which, I know, is part of utopian thinking. :)

I don't know enough about Singapore to comment on their setup (I did visit briefly once in the late-90s, and it was an amazing place). I do find it interesting that after the careful hunt for a worthy, qualified successor, leadership then passed immediately to the son of that ruler. That seems slightly counter to the established principles.

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Fascinating piece and I learned a lot I didn’t know. I’ve always been irritated when I see ballot questions about policy changes when I vote; I think to myself, “how should I know? Isn’t that why we elect a legislature, so you all can study this and decide?”

I do wonder the degree to which a (mostly) ethnically homogenous society makes possible what Singapore (or for that matter, Denmark or Sweden) is doing. That the U.S. is such a large, pluralistic, multi-ethnic country -- and with our history of slavery, segregation and discrimination -- and we still are able to more or less make it work seems like a miracle when you think about it.

What in Singapore is the glue that creates the social trust that makes their system possible, do you think?

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